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One Pastor and Church Government (Part 5) - Addressing Multiple Elder Verses

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Watch the video of this sermon on YouTube: One Pastor and Church Government (Part 5).

For a master copy of the outline and the other sermons in the series, click here: One Pastor.

To listen to or watch the previous sermon in the series, click here: Part 4.
To listen to or watch the next sermon in the series, click here: Part 6.

IV. Does 1Ti 5:17 teach that there are supposed to be teaching elders and ruling elders in the church?
1. Especially adv. - In an especial manner; principally, chiefly. Also in phr. †in especially (see also inespecially). In later use also with adjs.: In an especial degree.
2. Especial adj. - 1. In senses now commonly expressed by special: a. Special as opposed to general (arch.); also in Law †especial pleading, especial tail. †b. Particular, individual, ‘specific’ (obs.). †c. Provided for a particular purpose (obs.).
3. Elders that rule well should be counted worthy of double honour (1Ti 5:17).
4. 1Ti 5:17 tells us that elders (in general) are rulers in the church.
5. Those that have the rule are those who teach the word of God (Heb 13:7).
A. There is no such thing as a Biblical elder who is not a teacher of the word of God.
B. This is obvious because a qualification to be an elder is that he must be apt to teach (1Ti 3:2 c/w Tit 1:5-7).
C. Elders both feed the flock (teach) and oversee (rule) them (1Pe 5:1-2; Act 20:17,28).
6. The elders who are especially (particularly and principally) worthy of double honour are those elders who rule well and labour in the word and doctrine (1Ti 5:17).
7. In other words, the elders that are worthy of double honour are those who do both parts of their job (ruling and teaching) well.
V. What about verses that seem to demand that a church have a plurality of elders such as the following?
1. Heb 13:7,17,24
A. These verses tell us to remember, obey, and salute "them that have the rule over you."
B. The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were members of a church (Heb 10:25; Heb 3:6 c/w 1Ti 3:15 c/w 1Pe 2:5).
C. The church that they were members of must have been the Jerusalem Church which was comprised entirely (or nearly) of Jews.
D. The Jerusalem Church had thousands of members (Act 21:17-20) and numerous apostles and elders (Act 15:2).
E. The apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church were them that had the rule over the church.
i. They were those who had spoken unto them the word of God (Heb 2:3-4 & Act 6:2 c/w Heb 13:7).
ii. They were those who watched for their souls and gave an account to God of them (Act 6:4 c/w Heb 13:17).
F. It would be necessary for a church with thousands of members to have a plurality of elders to rule over them.
G. It is not necessary for a small church to have a plurality of elders since one pastor can do that work himself.
2. 1Th 5:12-13
A. "Them" in 1Th 5:12-13 indicates that there was more than one elder in the church in Thessalonica.
B. It appears that the church of the Thessalonians was a large church.
i. They were examples to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (1Th 1:7).
ii. They spread their faith not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in "every place", so much so that Paul didn't even need to preach in those places (1Th 1:8).
iii. Achaia was in what is now southern Greece over 200 miles from Thessalonica in northern Greece.
iv. Therefore, the church of the Thessalonians appears to have been a large, vibrant, and growing church.
C. As it was in large churches such as Jerusalem (Act 4:4; Act 6:7; Act 21:20 c/w Act 15:2) and Philippi (Php 1:1), there was a need to have multiple elders to govern the church in Thessalonica.
3. Jam 5:14
A. James the Lord's brother was the presiding elder of the Jerusalem church (see Section II,2 above).
B. In that James the Lord's brother was the presiding elder in the Jerusalem church, it is reasonable to conclude that he wrote the book of James which was addressed to believing Jews (Jam 1:1), many of whom were members of the Jerusalem church.
C. The Jerusalem church was very large and had multiple elders (Act 21:20 c/w Act 15:2).
D. The Jerusalem church also had apostles, who were themselves elders (1Pe 5:1), who still had the gift of healing by anointing the sick with oil (Mar 6:7,13).
E. Jam 5:14 is yet another example of instruction to a large church which had multiple elders.
4. 1Pe 5:1-4
A. Peter was the apostle to the Jews (Gal 2:7-8).
B. Peter wrote a general epistle to Jewish Christians in churches dispersed throughout the known world (1Pe 1:1).
C. Therefore, 1Pe 5:1 doesn't prove that there were a multiplicity of elders in one church, nor that there needs to be.
D. There could have been one elder in each church, or multiple elders in the larger churches such as Jerusalem to whom Peter was writing.
5. Act 20:17,28
A. There were clearly multiple elders who were overseers and pastors of the church of Ephesus (Act 20:17,28).
B. As has been proven in the previous sections, large churches have a need for multiple elders/pastors to oversee and feed them, which was the case with the church at Ephesus.
C. Despite having many elders, the church at Ephesus had one pastor who was ultimately responsible for the oversight of the church (Rev 2:1) (the angel of the church at Ephesus was its pastor - see Section II,5).
D. Timothy appears to have been the head pastor of the church at Ephesus for a time (1Ti 1:3).
6. Act 14:23; Tit 1:5
A. It is alleged by some that Act 14:23 and Tit 1:5 teach that each church must have multiple elders.
i. It is alleged that just as "brethren in every city" (Act 15:36) means that there were multiple believers in each city, so "elders in every church" and "elders in every city" means that there were multiple elders in each church.
ii. This idea is proved false by the following points.
B. The grammar of the phrases "when they had ordained them elders in every church" (Act 14:23), and "ordain elders in every city" (Tit 1:5) does not demand that more than one elder was ordained in each church.
i. If the grammar of Act 14:23 and Tit 1:5 demand that there were multiple elders in each church, then the grammar of Lev 11:26 likewise demands that each beast had multiple carcasses.
a. If an error proves anything, it proves too much.
b. Just as each beast had only one carcass in Lev 11:26, each church needs only to have one elder according to the similar grammar of Act 14:23 and Tit 1:5.
ii. Exo 14:7 says that there were "...captains over every one of them (chariots)...."
a. Anyone who knows what a chariot is knows that there was only one captain over each chariot.
b. If the grammar of Act 14:23 and Tit 1:5 demand that there were multiple elders in each church, then the grammar of Exo 14:7 likewise demands that each chariot had multiple captains.
c. If an error proves anything, it proves too much.
d. Just as each chariot had only one captain in Exo 14:7, each church needs only to have one elder according to the similar grammar of Act 14:23 and Tit 1:5.
iii. 2Ch 28:24 states that there were "...altars in every corner of Jerusalem..."
a. How many altars can there be in one corner? Obviously one.
b. "Altars in every corner" simply means that there was an altar everywhere you looked on each corner of Jerusalem.
c. Likewise, "elders in every church" can simply mean that there was an elder in each church.
C. The phrase "Xs in every Y" grammatically means "one X in each Y."
i. This terminology is used routinely in everyday language. For example:
a. If a hotel manager told his employee to "put centerpieces on every table" in the conference room, the worker would clearly understand that he was to put one centerpiece on each table.
b. "The Supreme Court opinions use this phrase over 400 times, of which the classic example is "Sheriffs in every county." It would be an interesting discussion between those who believe in multiple-elder rule and Supreme Court linguists. Let them convince the linguists that they are confusing people by saying there is more than one sheriff in each county." (Ben Townsend, In Defense of One Pastor, p. 93)
c. If a man said, "Governors in every state sign many bills per year," nobody would conclude that he was saying that each state had multiple governors.
d. If a man said, "Judges in every court make rulings regularly," nobody would conclude that he was saying that each court had multiple judges.
D. Likewise, the phrases "when they had ordained them elders in every church" (Act 14:23), and "ordain elders in every city" (Tit 1:5) mean that one elder (or more if necessary) was ordained in each church.
i. In Titus' case, there could have been more than one church in the larger cities of Crete, which would have meant that more than one elder was ordained in those cities (one per church).
ii. Also, it is possible that some of the churches in Crete, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch were large enough to need more than one elder.
iii. But the fact remains that Act 14:23 and Tit 1:5 do not demand that each church must have more than one elder.
E. Act 14:23 and Tit 1:5 use the word "every" which is a plural word, not "each" which is singular word.
i. Every adj. - 1. Used to express distributively the sense that is expressed collectively by all.
ii. "The Scripture does not say "elders in each church," or "elders in each city." The word "each" would certainly signify a singularity for the plural word to apply to." (Ben Townsend, In Defense of One Pastor, p. 93)
iii. If those verses said "elders in each church," then there would be Biblical precedent for the need to have more than one elder in a local church, but such is not the case.
iv. "If the scriptures wanted more than on elder in each church, it would most certainly have said, "Ordain elders in each church."" (Ben Townsend, In Defense of One Pastor, p. 134)
v. In that every is "used to express distributively the sense that is expressed collectively by all," Act 14:23 states that they "ordained them elders (plural) in every (plural) church."
a. In other words, they ordained them elders in all the churches.
b. When it is understood that every is used plurally, any idea that Act 14:23 or Tit 1:5 demand that there be multiple elders in a local church is shown to be false.
vi. If one elder were ordained in each church, the grammatically correct way to state that fact would be to say, "they had ordained them elders in every church" (Act 14:23).
vii. If more than one elder were ordained in each church, the grammatically correct way to state that fact would be to say, "they had ordained them elders in each church."
7. None of these verses state that a church has to have a multiplicity of elders, they simply state that some churches had multiple elders.
8. If the Bible indeed commands that each church must have more than one elder, then the Bible would tell us how many elders must be in each church, but such is not the case.